What is the Fediverse?

A Basic Primer

By Stephen Schwetz

Social media has taken away so much from the internet. Originally the internet was designed to bring people together to form relationships, and from these relationships, you were able to gain access to the information that others held. Be it newsgroups, internet forums or mailing lists. People were involved in courteous discourse about improving their lives.

This changed once the social media revolution occurred and platforms like Twitter and Facebook gained billions of users, and the internet turned on its users, turning them into products. Not only that, but think if something happened to Facebook and they shut down or disabled your account without warning tomorrow, how much data have you lost access to? Your posts and the media, how do you even start to put a value on them?

The Solution.

The Fediverse

The first thing to realise is that Mastodon is on the Fediverse, but it is not the only type of software that runs on the Fediverse. The fediverse is a large social media network made of thousands of small servers that have been federated together; this means that users from one server, known as an instance, are able to communicate with users that are located on another instance. For example, neurodiversity@-in.au is my federated mastodon instance.=

The idea behind the Fediverse and its products is that anyone with the knowledge can create and maintain an instance of the software of their choice. As operators, they are responsible for whom they allow onto their instance and for moderating the posts that they make. As there is not a single entity like Facebook or Twitter maintaining the Fediverse but multiple small instances, this is called a decentralised model.

Federation – Like Email

The best model of decentralisation on the Internet today is e-mail. There are many email operators on the internet, from your ISP to business-based models like Google G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365, to email systems designed for home users such as Gmail and outlook. If you have the knowledge, you can even run your own e-mail system from commercial products like Microsoft Exchange to MailCow or a bespoke model on your own Linux box.

This is because all e-mail services use industry-standard protocols to communicate with each other, known as SMTP, for sending e-mails between each instance and then additional protocols such as POP3 and IMAP to allow your email program to download the mail from the server for you to read.


The Fediverse has its own industry-standard protocol known as ActivityPub, and through this protocol, instances within the fediverse are able to understand each other, just like in email. It defines how an instance should handle new user posts, how to find users on another instance and the interactions that occur, like replying, boosting, and favouriting new posts.

Mastodon is not the only product on the Fediverse; there are others. For microblogging, there is also Frendica for video sharing, there is PeerTube and image hosting can be PixelFeed. There is even standard blogging software like Plume and write.as. The common thing between them all is that they use ActivityPub for their communication with other instances.

No Vendor Lock-in.

The Fediverse prevents vendor lock-in. One of the reasons that sites like Facebook and Twitter have become so big is you have to join before you are able to participate in using the product. Once you are in, they try their hardest to keep you in and do not make it easy for you to get your data out in a usable format.

With the Fediverse, the opposite is occurring, and as it grows and more products become compatible with the Fediverse, it is easier to interact with their products as well.

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